In the mid-90's, funnyman Jim Carrey shot to superstardom with a trio of smash-hit comedies, "Ace Ventura", "Dumb and Dumber", and "The Mask." It was a no-brainer for the studios to greenlight a sequel to each film. However, Carrey only reprised his role of the Pet Detective before pricing himself out of range with his $20 million fee. New Line eventually went on to make "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd", starring two unknowns, and "Son of the Mask" with Jamie Kennedy stepping into the lead. Neither was as successful as their predecessor and both films were savaged by critics. Meanwhile, Carrey was stretching his acting muscles to varying degrees of acclaim. While "The Truman Show" was a winner, films like "The Majestic" and "Man on the Moon" didn't light up the box office. So it was that Carrey returned to his bread and butter with resounding results in "Bruce Almighty." Of course, Universal eagerly looked to shoot a follow-up, but both Carrey and co-star Jennifer Aniston declined to return. Instead, the studio looked to Steve Carell who graduated from second banana to leading man with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
Previously, Carell played Evan Baxter, a rival news anchor to Carrey's character Bruce Nolan. In "Evan Almighty", he goes from smarmy newsman to wholesome family patriarch. Evan looks to start a new chapter in his life as he uproots his family from Buffalo to Virginia after winning a seat into the United States Congress. Joining Evan along for the ride are his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and his three sons, Ryan (Jimmy Bennett), Jordan (Graham Phillips), and Dylan (Johnny Simmons). He has a lot of expectations to live up to after running on a campaign promise of, "Change the world." The newly elected Evan may be on his way when veteran Congressman Chuck Long (John Goodman) takes him under his wing and, perhaps, put him in his pocket. Evan is moved into a lush new office and asked to co-sponsor Long's new Land Use Bill that will open up the country's national parks for housing developments.
A rather heavy monkey wrench is thrown into Evan's plans when God himself (Morgan Freeman) tasks Evan with an even greater mission. A flood is coming and he needs to build an ark. Pairs of animals from all over the world flock around Evan. To show that God does have a strange sense of humor, he even causes Evan to grow out his hair and beard along with forcing him to wear robes. Evan's life is thrown into turmoil as his family think he's gone crazy and he's suspended from Congress. News crews from across the country gather around his home to chronicle this wacko and his construction project. Even Jon Stewart gets in on the act. That Evan's facial hair grows at nigh-impossible speed and he's got hundreds of animals performing construction duties for him isn't good enough proof for the mass. Evan must convince his family that he's sane while trying to save the very people who mock and doubt him.
Carell has a few humorous off-the-cuff moments, but he's not the whirling dervish that is Jim Carrey. Still, he's a likeable everyman that does his best with the tepid material that he's given. Morgan Freeman might as well be God for making subpar films like "Evan Almighty" or "Unleashed" at least somewhat watchable. Filling out the supporting cast are John Michael Higgins as Evan's chief of staff, Wanda Sykes as Evan's sassy executive assistant, Rita, who always has a one-liner ready, Jonah Hill as Eugene, a sycophantic Ed Helms as a condescending reporter, and Molly Shannon in a very brief role as a real estate agent named Eve Adams, get it?
The film sticks to its guns when it comes to well-meaning, feel-good themes of belief, faith, and community. It preaches the uplifting messages of protecting the environment and the importance of family. All well and good, but you still need a strong script to act as a backbone. The script for "Evan Almighty" has all sorts of problems. First, it's predictable. We know exactly where the characters are going to wind up each step of the way. People will come around to Evan's way of thinking and the trees will all be saved. The writers also feel the need to literally spell everything out for us. When God talks about acts of random kindness, he makes sure to let the audience know those three words form the acronym, "ARK." Secondly, the film is unoriginal. Most of the jokes revolve around animals following around a hapless Evan and his rapid beard growth. Both types of jokes were already done in "Dr. Doolittle" and "The Santa Clause." Finally, the film is a comedy, but it's just not funny. Watching Carell do a silly dance doesn't make me slap my knees or shoot milk out of my nose. And for a family-friendly movie, there are quite a lot of gags about animal poop.
The most surprising thing about "Evan Almighty" is just how much money the studio spent on it. The production budget was $175 million. Throw in advertising and they must have sunk at least $200 million into the production. Watching "Evan", you have to wonder where all that cash went. Considering the film's message of conservation, it's amusing that the producers didn't just spend a fifth of the actual budget and donate the rest to Greenpeace.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film might not be great, but the transfer is. The picture is bright and the colors are strong. Upon closer inspection, you can easily tell which animals are real and which are CGI. Not a blemish can be spotted.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with an optional Spanish dubbed track in 5.1 and a French dubbed track in 2.0. There is also a Descriptive Video Service for the visually impaired. The audio is mostly dialogue-driven, but the flood sequence is where the sound really shines. The roar of the water is booming and you can hear the birds soar between channels.
The Ark-itects of Noah's Ark is a seven minute featurette that focuses on what went into building the actual ark used in the film. This is the first of many fluffy EPK-style extras that fill out the DVD.
Becoming Noah is a six and a half minute featurette about the make-up process Steve Carell went through to transform into Noah. Cast and crew are discuss their reactions to the different looks that Carell took on during the film.
Steve Carell Unscripted is a two minute montage of the fun times had on set with Carell. Mostly outtakes and ad-libbing.
Animals on Set Two by Two runs just under thirteen minutes and spotlights the animals used for the film. The cast and crew are interviewed about working with the various species of creatures and we also meet the animal trainers who talk about how they got everyone to do their scenes.
Animal Round-Up Game is a simple game that asks you to match up each animal with their pair and answer a trivia question about wildlife.
The Almighty Green Set is a five and a half minute featurette about how Director Tom Shadyac went green for the making of the film. Shadyac bought everyone bikes to ride to the set. The crew also planted over two thousand trees in a nearby wildlife park and donated the wood used for the ark to Habitats for Humanity.
It's Easy Being Green is a five minute featurette with the cast and Shadyac giving us all helpful tips on how to give the environment a break.
Acts of Random Kindness runs just under two minutes and features the cast and crew talking about, what else, acts of random kindness like helping old ladies cross the street and such.
A Flood of Visual Effects is a featurette with interviews by the effects team at ILM who discuss the work that went into creating the climatic flood. They also discuss the CGI used to create animals that wouldn't be able to work with each other in real life.
Casting Call: Serengetti: is a three minute short film that played in theaters during the pre-show. It follows the casting director auditioning a variety of animal actors.
The Almighty Forest is a credits reel featuring the names of everyone who signed onto GetonBoardNow.org and planted a tree.
Also included are a collection of deleted scenes with a very brief intro by Steve Carell an outtakes reel, and skippable previews for other Universal releases.
You can't fault the film for being inoffensive, family-fare. You can fault it for being unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfunny. "Evan Almighty" is another in a long line of bloated Hollywood blockbusters that has become standard for the schlock-filled summer. Those of you looking for a safe video rental for Family Movie Night could probably do worse than watching "Evan." Anybody else should probably keep moving. Nothing to see here.